Let’s see … the sky was gray this morning … again. The temperature was in the 30s … again. The forecast calls for more chilly weather … again. Kevin Durant is going to be No. 1 on this list … again.
What is going to make today different?
These are the things you ponder while getting the kids ready for school — plus the thought of what the heck was the local school board thinking when they decided that school would begin at 7:30 a.m? Don’t they know about West Coast games? Don’t they know about snooze buttons?
Well, the fact of the matter is that this could be a very, very different Wednesday. You know why?
Because the Knicks and the Nets have been playing together in the NBA since 1976, and despite their geographic proximity to one another, they have never had a strong rivalry over those 38 years because both teams were never good at the same time. When the Knicks were good in the 1990s, their blue and orange clad fans took over the Meadowlands on nights when the Knicks crossed the Hudson River to play a road game. When the Nets were good a decade ago with Jason Kidd leading the show, the players from New Jersey treated the visiting locker room at MSG like their living room, putting their feet up on the furniture while making light of the disaster of a team down at the other end of the hall. They were dismissive of the Knicks back then, but they never developed a hatred of the ‘Bockers. It was more like pity.
Tonight, however, could be the night when everything changes. There is a meaningful Nets-Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, with both teams having a lot on the line.
The Knicks are trying to climb into the eighth playoff spot in the East, trying to catch an Atlanta Hawks team that is an affront to good basketball. The Nets are trying to catch the Toronto Raptors for first place in the Atlantic Division, giving themselves homecourt advantage in the postseason at an arena where they’ve won 14 straight games, the longest home streak in the league this season.
The Nets have an entirely new fan base now, having become oh so urban since their move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. All the young folks in New York City now flock to Brooklyn like they once did to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, seeking affordable housing and camaraderie with folks their own age. Manhattan has become way too overpriced for the youngins, and the youngins are too young and from too many divergent places to have developed a lifelong love of the Knicks.
Spike Lee is a relic from the past, a guy from Brooklyn who roots for the Knicks. These days, if you hunker down in the BK, you develop an affection for the team in back and white. When you go to a Nets game in Brooklyn, the demographic is young, urban and hip. When you go to a Knicks game, the demographic is blue blood, older and a heck of a lot more despondent.
So tonight, when both teams are playing for something significant, the dynamic might actually change. This could be a game with some real fireworks, and there doesn’t need to be a cereal reference to change up the atmosphere. If the Knicks lose, their chances of playing postseason basketball diminish. If the Knicks win, they will still be in the hunt as the final few days of the regular season wind down – but they will also have it in the back of their minds that they will need to go across the East River into Brooklyn on April 15 and come out with a win to strengthen their prospects.
So we’ll get two games in New York between the local teams in a span of two weeks that will carry a heckuva lot of meaning. That’s what you need to build a serious rivalry, and it’s been a long time coming if these two franchises are going to finally develop a real one – a rivalry that exists in the locker rooms, not just in the ownership suites.
So this Wednesday is different, at least in that respect. As for the MVP rankings, well, there’s some stuff that has changed. But the race is very much over, and Kevin Durant is going to win. I will even go out on a limb and predict that it will be unanimous. And as I have been mentioning for the past three weeks, the race will be for second place.
So on to the rankings we go …